Wednesday, November 14th, 2012

When Food Critics Narc Out Waiters

I waited on Frank Bruni and three others on his second-to-last visit to Graydon Carter’s Monkey Bar back in 2009, and unwittingly provided him with the kicker to his one-star review (the restaurant had been aiming for two)…. This, to me, is one of the stranger outcomes of restaurant reviews: that waiters are sometimes treated like they work in the public interest, or something. But as people argue over whether the New York Times is being classist in its scathing review of Guy Fieri’s restaurant, I’d like to point out the quieter classism that is inherent to the restaurant review: that very dispensable service employees are outed for minor errors by critics whose audience consists of those who can afford to eat at these places.

Who'll consider the servers, who often end up as collateral damage when restaurant critics come to pounce?

18 Comments / Post A Comment

Danzig! (#5,318)

Why would anyone become a critic if not for the promise that they would one day hold power over the lives of random people

flossy (#1,402)

Speaking of the servers, I actually thought "The well-meaning staff seems to realize that this is not a real restaurant" was one of the best and most brutal lines in the whole piece.

petejayhawk (#1,249)

Outing a shitty server is a horrible crime against the proletariat, but ragging on back of house staff for doing THEIR jobs poorly is totally bitchin'. Right? Because they're not sensitive souls who harbor dreams of writing or acting stardom.

willystaley (#7,688)

@petejayhawk Hey, I'm responsible for the blog post in question, and I think you bring up a great point. However, I do think there's a minor but important distinction here, which is that a restaurant review is ostensibly mainly about the food. The BOH comes to work knowing that their ass/reputation hangs in the balance with a review. I just think it's weird that FOH workers can be put on the record for slips of the tongue just because they happen to come between the chef and the critic, if that makes sense?

But you're right. It's ultimately of little consequence. I just thought it was interesting.

SkinnyNerd (#224,784)

@willystaley Dude, you know there are places in Manhattan where the "cook" is some guy that opens a box from a SYSCO truck and places whatever is in there on the grill.

deepomega (#1,720)

@willystaley In what possible world is a restaurant review "ostensibly mainly about the food"? Put it this way: if a restaurant review was mainly about the food, why don't food critics just review takeout?

willystaley (#7,688)

@deepomega you've got to be kidding me!

deepomega (#1,720)

@willystaley My question stands, dude.

willystaley (#7,688)

@deepomega I doubled down on hedgey adverbs there for a reason. I get what you're saying, but there's no need for hyperbole like "in what possible world…". That is all!

Multiphasic (#411)

I remember one NYT review of a restaurant at which my friend was waiting mentioned something like, "The waitstaff are clearly not from New York."


SkinnyNerd (#224,784)

@Multiphasic Wrong.

flossy (#1,402)

@Multiphasic I beg to differ

Multiphasic (#411)

@SkinnyNerd @flossy Granted. You both differ.

Nevertheless, criticizing a young person in a service job for not being native in New York City is deeply, deeply asinine and reflects a general failure to leave the Upper ____ Side.

stuffisthings (#1,352)

Frank Bruni was born in White Plains and went to UNC. (Sam Sifton is, I believe, a Real New Yorker who of course lives in Brooklyn)

MILEAGE (#3,250)

Bruni's comment was completely harmless, if a little snarky. Monkey Bar's treatment of the server after the fact is much more problematic. I think the complaint is with thin-skinned restauranteurs, not snarky restaurant reviewers

shudder (#5,913)

@MILEAGE THIS! THIS! All restaurateurs have hair triggers for any minor complaint about their restaurant!

alorsenfants (#139)

I will say two things, with a little authority here (10 years in the business, ranging from serving in a silly Italian joke of a place to owning a much better bistro now):
1. Servers are part of the problem, and deserve some of the criticism.
2. Frank Bruni is not any particular genius, and if you don't believe me here, just try reading him now that he is expounding on matters of much more importance in the Op-Ed… I did, but have stopped.

Kumara (#241,096)

I work in the frozen yogurt business and I can tell you they do matter when it comes to the place's reputation. I had a complaint about a waiter of mine, once, he had a bad attitude and the people who came to me and said it also told me they'll never come eat at my restaurant again. He IS the liaison between the owners and the clients, after all.

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